Bonni Stachowiak, associate professor of business management at Vanguard University of Southern California, and creator and host of the Teaching in Higher Ed podcast, wants to make sure you don’t get overloaded by social media and news. These apps for teachers will help you take back control of your information consumption and solve the mystery of where your time is going.
In her podcast, Stachowiak covers the art and science of facilitating learning, and a large part of learning is finding and filtering information. If you’re obsessively interested in a subject that you teach in, that’s good news—but the problems come when you try to treat every piece of information that way. There just isn’t time.
“We’re just constantly going out and seeking out information, making sense of it, and then sharing that in different ways,” says Stachowiak, “Of course, we do that a lot in the research process as academics, but I find that that same approach is not necessarily always easy for people to carry over into other aspects of their lives.”
In a recent webinar with Top Hat, Stachowiak explains how she puts the theory of personal knowledge management to use, making sure media consumption and reading is focused on her interests, professional development and creativity—and not on what Facebook and Twitter want you to click on.
The following apps for teachers and professors will help bolster your personal knowledge management practices by creating good habits in the age of digital distraction. All of the apps are available as iPhone apps on iOS on the App Store, many for free, and some are available for Android.
“One I wanted to mention is just the ability to go out and seek great podcast episodes that you’d want to listen to around topics of interest. The podcast app that I use is iOS-specific, for iPhones, called Overcast,” says Stachowiak.
“I love Overcast because it lets me speed up, and most of the podcast players let you speed up, but it also removes silence. I can get through an hour-long podcast in about 25 minutes, because I’m listening to it double speed and I’m removing the silence. It might sound nutty at first, but that is something you very much get used to, because our brain can process far more words at once than someone speaking. It’s a really great tool.”
iOS and Android
Slack is an instant messaging service, most frequently used within technology companies for internal communication. The reason it’s on Stachowiak’s list of apps for teachers is that it is also an effective and unobtrusive medium for community-building and discussion.
“We have [a group] for Teaching in Higher Ed, and I’m subscribed to a couple others as well. That’s really a tight, niche group of people who are in community around those topics. There’s about 250 people up there,” she says.
“But the nice thing about it is, they can quit the application and not have any notifications, turn it on, and the next time they come visit, see what they missed. Or there’s people who are regularly up there and get pinged every time a message gets posted.”
The fact that Slack can be set to not constantly bother you is a big improvement on other community apps, in Stachowiak’s view. “One of the things you’re trying to eliminate with personal knowledge management is this sense of, ‘What did I miss?’ and that you’re constantly catching up with the past, and then you’re sifting through multiple conversations at once, as opposed to just picking the one that you’re interested in and devoting some time to it when it suits you.”
Basic: Free, Pro: $5/month
Feedly takes advantage of one of the oldest technologies on the web, RSS, or “real simple syndication,” which you can use to follow the latest posts on a site. It’s a replacement for the popular Google Reader service, which was discontinued in 2013.
The benefit of this app for teachers is that when you have all your reading material in one place, it becomes much easier to say no when information becomes too overwhelming. “When it comes in, I can mark everything as read,” says Stachowiak, “Some of my students were recently saying I’m making liberal use of the ‘mark all as read’. You don’t literally read every story… I’ll skim the headlines and then say, ‘Eh, none of them really stood out to me, or maybe just one did.’.”
“I like Feedly a lot because it’s relatively easy to add content into it, you can organize, and it works really well with other kinds of systems for reading on your mobile devices.”
Pinboard.in is a tool that lets you save information to a folder—and stays saved if the page is deleted. But more than that, it’s an extremely powerful tool for organizing information under multiple headings, or tags. Tagging shines because more than one can be applied to each article, and this gives it a great deal of power as a note taking app.
“The layout of [Pinboard.in] is really simple, which is one of the things I like about it,” says Stachowiak. “I can just be reading on my mobile device, or I can be reading on the web, and with a click it automatically grabs the title of whatever news item and the link, and I just put in what are called tags. Sometimes it has suggested tags already. If it’s related to a class I teach, then I’ll put the class number, if it’s a topic, I’ll put the topic. Then I like to identify, is it humor, is it video, is it audio, and really make it have value for me longer-term.”
iOS (also over e-mail)
All the apps for teachers Stachowiak has suggested so far have focused on self-curation—Feedly and Pinboard for article location and archiving, Slack for notification-free community and Overcast for podcasts.
But if you want to be another remove from the Internet firehose of information, you can sign up to NextDraft—a newsletter available over e-mail and an iOS app, compiled every day by Dave Pell, whom Stachowiak calls a “master curator.” Gizmodo describes NextDraft as a “life vest for the news typhoon.”
“Each morning I visit about 75 news sites, and from that swirling nightmare of information quicksand, I pluck the top ten most fascinating items of the day,” Pell explains. If you’re able to keep to your inbox instead of a parade of social media and news website, you’ll be able to focus more.
“Here’s my not best practice for how to use this app,” explains Stachowiak. “I see an article and I go, ‘Ooh, that’d be great to read.’ This is a memo I write to my future self. ‘Wouldn’t future self like to read this article or watch this TED Talk or whatever?’… It’s so easy. I just push a little button my browser, and all of a sudden that’s gone off to my future self. And guess what? That queue just keeps getting longer and longer and longer, and I rarely go back and read them.”
Providing that you can meet that commitment to your future self, Instapaper can be a great way to filter out the noise by restricting your reading to offline on your smartphone. “Read-it-later services are incredible,” she adds. “They will pare down the advertising, they take out all the clutter, they put it in a very readable format.”
Bonni’s book, The Productive Online Professor, can be pre-ordered today on Amazon. Learn to practice personal knowledge management, all about the practice of “seek, sense and share,” effective filtering, and other techniques aimed to inspire you towards unplugging, by watching our webinar on demand below.